Understanding Different Types of Outlines for Writing Papers

Understanding Different Types of Outlines for Writing Papers

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If you’ve ever written a research paper, you know that the organization is key. Having a clear and logical structure helps readers follow your thoughts and arguments, making it easier for them to understand your main points. This is where outlining comes in. Outlining is the process of organizing your ideas and structuring your paper before you start writing.

There are various types of outlines that you can use, depending on your preferences and the requirements of your assignment. In this article, we will explore some of the most frequently used outline types, including alphanumeric, decimal, and full-sentence outlines. We will also discuss how to use these outlines to organize your thoughts and provide examples to help you better understand the concepts.

One of the most popular outline styles is the alphanumeric outline. This type of outline uses a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols to represent the different levels and categories of information. For example, you would use Roman numerals (I, II, III) for the main topics, capital letters (A, B, C) for the subheadings, and Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) for the supporting details. This hierarchical structure makes it easy to identify the key components of your paper and ensures that your ideas flow logically.

Another type of outline is the decimal outline, which follows a similar hierarchical structure as the alphanumeric outline but uses numbers and decimals to represent the different levels. For example, you would use 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 for the main topics, 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3 for the subheadings, and so on. This type of outline is especially helpful if you need to establish a clear hierarchy between your ideas and want to show the relationship between different subtopics.

The full-sentence outline, as the name suggests, includes full sentences for each level of the outline. This type of outline is more detailed and provides a complete overview of your paper, including the main points, supporting details, and examples or evidence that you will include. This type of outline is often used for longer papers or more complex topics, as it allows you to see how your ideas fit together and ensures that you have enough information to support your thesis statement.

Now that you know the different types of outlines, you may be wondering how to create one for your own paper. Luckily, there are numerous resources available online that can help you get started. Many websites offer free outline templates that you can download and use as a starting point. You can also use word processing software like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, which often have built-in outline templates that you can use to structure your paper. If you’re still unsure about how to create an outline, don’t hesitate to ask your teacher or professor for guidance. They will be able to provide you with more specific instructions and examples based on your assignment requirements.

Remember, outlining is an essential part of the writing process. It helps you organize your thoughts, ensure that your paper has a clear and logical structure, and makes it easier for readers to follow your arguments. By following the rules of outlining and using the appropriate types of outlines for your paper, you’ll be well on your way to writing a successful and coherent research paper. So start outlining and happy writing!

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What is an outline?

There are various types of outlines that writers can use, depending on their preference and the type of writing they are working on. For example, a topic outline uses short phrases or single words to identify the main ideas, while a sentence outline provides a full sentence for each bullet point. It is also possible to use a combination of these formats, depending on the level of detail desired.

To illustrate the use of an outline, here is a sample outline in MLA format for a research paper on “The Impact of Social Media on Society”:

Thesis Statement: Social media has significantly changed the way people communicate and interact in today’s society.
– Definition of social media – Purpose of the research paper
II. The Pros of Social Media – Increased connectivity and access to information – Opportunities for self-expression and creativity
III. The Cons of Social Media – Impact on mental health and well-being – Spread of fake news and misinformation
IV. The Influence of Social Media on Relationships – Changes in romantic relationships – Impact on friendships and social connections
– Recap of main points – Implications for the future

As shown in the example above, each major section of the paper is identified by a Roman numeral, followed by a brief description of the main topics to be covered. Subheadings and bullet points are used to further break down each section and provide more specific details. This structure helps to keep the paper organized and ensures that all relevant information is included.

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Why are outlines important in writing?

Outlines are particularly useful for longer, more complex papers, such as research papers or thesis statements. They help writers break down their ideas into manageable sections and establish the overall structure of the paper. By having a clear outline, writers can avoid getting lost or going off track in their writing.

Outlines can be written in different formats, such as APA or MLA style. These outline types have specific components and formatting rules to follow, including the use of Roman numerals, capitalization of titles, and citation of sources. Outlining in APA style typically involves using full-sentence outlines with headings and subheadings, while outlining in MLA style often uses a more abbreviated format with short phrases or keywords.

Having a well-structured outline can help you stay focused and keep track of your progress as you write. It serves as a roadmap for your paper, guiding you through the different sections and ensuring that all necessary information is covered. An outline also allows you to easily rearrange or add new ideas if needed, without disrupting the flow of your writing.

In summary, outlines are an essential tool in the writing process. They help writers establish a clear and logical structure for their papers, making them easier to write and more cohesive. Outlines also allow writers to organize their thoughts, narrow down their focus, and ensure that they include all the necessary components in their writing. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a research paper, or a personal essay, using an outline can save you time and make your writing more effective.

How to Format an MLA Works Cited Page

  1. Create a separate page for your works cited page. This page should be placed at the end of your paper, after the main body and before any appendices.
  2. Start the page with the title “Works Cited” centered at the top. Make sure to capitalize the first letter of each word in the title.
  3. List your sources in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If the source does not have an author, use the title of the work.
  4. For each entry, include the author’s name (if available), the title of the work, the title of the container (such as a book or website), the names of any other contributors, the version or edition if applicable, the publisher, the publication date, and the location.
  5. Use a hanging indent for each entry, where the first line is flush with the left margin and any subsequent lines are indented. You can easily create this format by using a template or by adjusting the settings in your word processor.

  6. If your source is from an online platform, include a URL or DOI (Digital Object Identifier) at the end of the entry. If the source is a subscription-based platform, you may need to provide the login information for the reader to access the source.
  7. Remember to use italics for the titles of larger works, such as books or journals, and quotation marks for shorter works, such as articles or essays.
  8. Be consistent with the formatting and punctuation. For example, use a comma after the author’s name, put the title of the work in quotation marks, and use a period at the end of each entry.
  9. When referencing sources parenthetically within your paper, use the author’s last name and page number(s) separated by a space. For example: (Smith 23).

By following these tips and guidelines, you’ll be able to create a properly formatted MLA works cited page. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and guidelines for referencing sources in MLA format, as different sources may have slightly different formats.

What is an MLA works cited page?

Why is it important?

The MLA works cited page serves several important purposes. First and foremost, it gives credit to the original authors or creators of the sources used in the paper. This is crucial to avoid plagiarism and to acknowledge the contributions of others to your research.

How is it formatted?

The MLA works cited page follows specific formatting guidelines. It is typically titled “Works Cited” and is listed as a separate page at the end of the paper. The page number is included in the upper right corner of the page.

The entries on the works cited page are arranged alphabetically by the last names of the authors or editors. If no author is listed, the title of the source is used instead. Each entry begins with the author’s name or title, followed by the title of the source in italics, the publication information, and the medium of publication (e.g., print, web, etc.).

The specific format for each type of source (e.g., books, articles, websites, etc.) follows a standard template and includes information such as the publisher, year of publication, page numbers, and URL if applicable.

How to create an MLA works cited page?

Creating an MLA works cited page can be done manually by following the specific guidelines and formatting rules, or by using citation software or online generators. These tools can help automate the process by generating the necessary citations based on the information entered.

To create a works cited page manually, writers should gather all the necessary information for each source they have used in their research. This includes author names, titles of sources, publication information, and page numbers. The information should be organized and formatted according to MLA guidelines.

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It is important to double-check the accuracy of each citation and ensure that the formatting is consistent throughout the entire works cited page. Writers should also be aware of any specific requirements or variations that their instructors or institutions may have regarding citation styles and formatting.

Components of an MLA works cited page

The first thing to note is that the works cited page should be its own separate page at the end of your paper, following the last page of text. The title for this page should be “Works Cited” and it should be centered at the top of the page.

The entries on the works cited page should be listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, or by the title if there is no author. Each entry should be formatted with a hanging indent, where the first line is flush left and subsequent lines are indented. This helps to make the citations easier to read and follow.

For each citation, you should include the author’s name, the title of the source, the title of the larger work (if applicable), the publication information (such as the publisher and year of publication), and the page numbers (if applicable). The format for different types of sources, such as books, articles, or websites, may vary slightly, so it’s important to use a reliable MLA citation guide or template to ensure you are formatting your citations correctly.

One important thing to note is that in MLA style, the titles of major works, such as books or periodicals, should be italicized, while the titles of shorter works, such as articles or chapters, should be enclosed in quotation marks.

In addition, MLA uses specific abbreviations and symbols for certain elements within a citation. For example, the abbreviation “vol.” is used for volume numbers, “no.” is used for issue numbers, and “pp.” is used for page numbers. These abbreviations and symbols help to provide a clear and concise citation that includes all the necessary information.

Here is an example of a properly formatted MLA works cited page:

Author Last name, First name. “Title of Source.” Title of Larger Work (if applicable), Publisher, Year of Publication, Page numbers (if applicable).
Doe, John. “The Importance of Writing.” Writing Blog, xyz.com, 2022, pp. 1-10.
Smith, Jane. “What I Learned from Writing a Book.” Book Title, Publisher, 2021, pp. 25-50.

Remember to check the specific requirements of your assignment or instructor, as there may be variations in formatting and style. It’s always best to consult an authoritative source, such as the MLA Handbook, to ensure you are using the most up-to-date guidelines for your citations.

Formatting guidelines for an MLA works cited page

Listed Sources

  • Start the Works Cited page on a new page at the end of your paper.

  • The title “Works Cited” should be centered at the top of the page.

  • List the sources in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, or if there is no author, by the title of the source.

Information and Formatting

  • Each entry on the Works Cited page should have a hanging indent. To create a hanging indent in Microsoft Word, go to the “Paragraph” section, click on “Special” under “Indentation,” and choose “Hanging.”

  • For each source, include the author’s name (last name, first name), the title of the work, the publisher, and the publication year.

  • For books, include the city of publication along with the publisher’s name, and for journal articles, include the volume and issue number.

  • If there are multiple authors, list them in the same order as they appear in the source.

  • If a source does not have an author, start the citation with the title of the work.

  • If a source is an online resource, include the URL or the DOI (Digital Object Identifier).


Here are a few examples to show how to format different types of sources in an MLA Works Cited page:

  • Book: Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year.

  • Journal Article: Last Name, First Name. “Title of Article.” Title of Journal, vol. X, no. Y, Year, pp. XX-YY.

  • Website: “Title of Web Page.” Title of Website, Publisher, Date, URL.

Having a properly formatted Works Cited page is crucial for academic writing. It helps readers to identify and locate the sources you have used, and it also gives credit to the original authors and creators of the information you have referenced. Remember to always check the MLA Handbook or the official MLA website for the most up-to-date formatting guidelines and options.


What is a full-sentence outline?

A full-sentence outline is a detailed outline that uses complete sentences to outline each section and sub-section of a paper.

Why would I use a full-sentence outline?

Using a full-sentence outline can help you organize your thoughts and ideas before you start writing your paper. It provides a clear structure and allows you to easily see the flow of your arguments and supporting evidence.

How do I create a full-sentence outline?

To create a full-sentence outline, start by identifying the main points and sub-points of your paper. Then, write complete sentences for each point, ensuring that each sentence clearly states the main idea or argument of that section. Finally, arrange the sentences in a logical order to create a cohesive outline.

Can a full-sentence outline be modified as I write my paper?

Yes, a full-sentence outline can be modified as you write your paper. It is a flexible tool that allows you to easily add or rearrange sections and sub-sections as needed to reflect the development of your ideas.

Are there any disadvantages to using a full-sentence outline?

While a full-sentence outline can be helpful in organizing your thoughts, it can also be time-consuming to create and may limit your creativity during the writing process. Additionally, because it is a detailed outline, it may not be suitable for shorter papers or essays.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.